KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Alex Smith has been part of some embarrassing playoff defeats in Kansas City, including the Chiefs’ huge blown lead in Indianapolis several years ago and the nip-and-tuck loss to Pittsburgh last season.
None of them compares to Saturday night.
After leading the Chiefs to a 21-3 halftime lead over Tennessee, the veteran quarterback watched in horror as everything unraveled. Marcus Mariota led the Titans on three touchdown drives, Smith could not even manage to get his team a field goal, and the Chiefs were stunned 22-21 to end their season.
Perhaps even end Smith’s career with the Chiefs.
So when he was asked in a somber postgame news conference whether this was the most disheartening loss of his career, Smith was unequivocal: “Yeah,” he said. “Without a doubt.”
“You know, it felt like the opportunity we had in front of us, the talent we had – the group – when we play the way we’re capable of playing, yeah, the sky’s the limit,” Smith said. “Tonight isn’t a good example of that. Not consistent enough. Didn’t come out and make the plays we needed.”
That has become a familiar refrain for the Chiefs in the playoffs.
Especially the games at Arrowhead Stadium.
Despite having one of the proudest traditions in the NFL, and their stadium having a certain mystique about it, the Chiefs are miserable when the postseason rolls around.
They haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994, when Joe Montana was under center, and only two in their entire history.
If not for a road win over the Houston Texans a couple of years ago, the Chiefs would still be searching for their first postseason victory of any kind since that home win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Whenever you lose it always hurts, regardless of if it’s one point or 20 points. But to go down like this – it really hurts,” said Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, one of the longest-tenured players in the history of the franchise.
“I’ve been playing this game for a long time and 21-3 at halftime, you win. And we didn’t. You’re good enough, you come out with that win.”
There were numerous plays that made this defeat particularly gut-wrenching.
In the first half, Johnson blitzed in a flash and sacked Mariota, who clearly lost the ball before he hit the ground. But the officials ruled the play was over, it could not be reviewed and the Titans had time for a field goal that wound up being crucial in a game where every point mattered.
“I thought that’s why we had replay and some of those things,” Smith said afterward.
In the second half, the Chiefs took umbrage with another whistle when the Titans scored the go-ahead TD on a pass to Eric Decker. The Titans went for a 2-point conversion.
Mariota was getting sacked when the ball popped out again. Frank Zombo picked it up and began running the other way for what would have been two points, giving the Chiefs the lead back with just over six minutes left in the game.
The whistle again had been blown, and referee Jeff Triplette told a pool reporter Mariota’s forward progress had been stopped, allowing the Titans to retain the slimmest of leads.
“I don’t really have anything good to say,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “so I’m just going to kind of stay away from any comments on those guys. I don’t want to get fined or whatever. It’s not worth it.”
The final frustration came as the Titans were trying to run out the clock. Derrick Henry coughed up the ball and this time no whistle was blown, so Johnson returned the fumble for a touchdown. The crowd went wild as fireworks popped over Arrowhead Stadium – until replays showed that Henry was down.
The officials gave the ball back to the Titans and this time they ran out the clock.
The result was yet another heartbreak for a franchise that has known its share of them.
“Honestly we just didn’t come out ready to play in the second half, that’s what I’d say,” Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt said. “Nobody likes losing and this one’s for real. We’re going home.”